The All-Star break is behind us. Now, it will get actual for the NHL, with the March 3 commerce deadline and playoff chases on the horizon. What will occur because the depth ramps up? Here are my ideas on some key storylines to look at.

The New York Islanders are a greater staff after buying Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks. But can the franchise make the Stanley Cup playoffs? And is GM Lou Lamoriello achieved making strikes upfront of the commerce deadline?

Five groups vying for wildcard Stanley Cup playoff bids at the moment sit inside 4 factors of each other. From the Washington Capitals at 60, all the way down to the Panthers at 56, the Eastern Conference is about as tight because it will get. And the Islanders have scored the least amongst them by an honest margin.

So the 2 questions are very a lot tied collectively. And I feel it’s going to take additional surgical procedure for the Islanders to have an opportunity at making the dance. New York wants a puck transferring defenseman. Right now Noah Dobson is the one Islanders blueliner with greater than 16 factors. And I feel the Islanders may use one other weapon up entrance.

Horvat goes to make a constructive affect on New York’s energy play, which was the NHL’s second worst the day of the commerce. And I feel he’ll be a terrific match alongside Mathew Barzal ought to the duo discover themselves on a line collectively (they did Monday of their Horvat’s debut).

But let’s simply say Lamoriello manages to get the items I simply talked about. Would or not it’s sufficient to place his staff over the hump and into the Stanley Cup playoffs?

I’m skeptical. Pittsburgh has video games in hand. The Buffalo Sabres are surging. Even the Florida Panthers have proven life not too long ago. Bottom line: it’s going to be very exhausting for the Islanders to have any upward mobility in a crowded Eastern Conference. And I feel Lamoriello must hold the cellphone traces open.

Boston leads the NHL with 83 factors and a file of 39-7-5. The B’s are an absolute juggernaut and it’s exhausting to search out weak spot at any place. Can Boston make it your entire 2022-23 season with out tangible adversity?

Usually I’d say no probability. But with this staff, I’m not so certain. In some methods, the Bruins already confronted adversity when the staff began the season with out star ahead Brad Marchand and blueliner Charlie McAvoy. Coming out of the gates scorching appeared like a virtually inconceivable job for Boston, particularly with a brand new head coach in Jim Montgomery.

Logical considering stated the Bruins had been due for a setback. But Linus Ullmark has performed at a stage worthy of the Vezina Trophy. And the D-corps appears to be like stout, due to final years’ addition of Hampus Lindholm. For me, the largest unknown going into the 2022-23 season was David Krejci; he’s been outstanding since coming back from his one-year sabbatical in Czechia’s prime league.

I truthfully assume the Bruins would possibly go the remainder of the season with out dropping greater than two video games in a row once more. From the purpose crease out, they’re deep. And lacking key gamers early didn’t appear to have an effect on Boston.

But greater than something, there’s a way of pleasure emanating from the Boston locker room. I can’t inform you what number of instances I’ve paused this yr listening to a post-game interview from a Bruins participant speaking about staff chemistry.

Boston is having enjoyable once more. The star gamers are producing. And it appears to be like like they’ve the goaltending to make a critical run. Barring an onslaught of accidents, I feel Boston places up extra over 120 factors and cruises into the Stanley Cup playoffs brimming with confidence.

Seattle is first within the Pacific Division. Yet the overwhelming narrative is that the Kraken are nonetheless a couple of years away from with the ability to contend for the Stanley Cup. Is it goaltending? Lack of star energy? Can Seattle shock within the postseason?

I’ll admit, it took me some time to consider Seattle was for actual. And even now, I’ve doubts. The Kraken have gotten progressively higher defensively over the course of the 2022-23 season. But I nonetheless don’t see them as one of many NHL’s elite when it comes to shutting down the opposition.

And sure, I do lump Martin Jones into that blend. I feel he’s achieved a improbable job for Seattle. No probability the 33-year previous posts a 23-7-3 file with out making a few of these massive, well timed saves that my buddies in broadcasting prefer to rave about. 

But it’s been a very long time since Jones featured within the Stanley Cup playoffs. And the attention take a look at – together with superior stats – haven’t all the time been in his favor. Jones sits thirtieth in’s objectives saved above anticipated rankings. That stated, I’m rooting for him. Jones has reinvigorated his profession and given Seattle stability in purpose.

The most intriguing factor to me concerning the Kraken has been scoring depth. Seattle is ninth in objectives for. And they’ve achieved it and not using a true famous person. Yeah, Andre Burakovsky has been actually good. Matty Beniers appears to be like like he might be a perennial All-Star. But who else is getting it achieved? Guys like Jared McCann and Vince Dunn, who’re taking part in the most effective hockey of their careers.

Head coach Dave Hakstol hasn’t gotten the credit score he deserves. Seattle is taking part in to an identification that’s robust to deal with. And whereas I don’t consider the Kraken are true Stanley Cup contenders, the staff is totally able to going previous the primary spherical. Especially given how extensive open the Pacific Division is. I’m turning right into a believer.

St. Louis sits 9 factors again of the second wildcard slot within the Western Conference with solely 31 video games to play. Captain Ryan O’Reilly and sniper Vladimir Tarasenko are each pending UFAs, amongst others. GM Doug Armstrong has to explode the Blues, proper?

Oh yeah, it’s time. The Blues are lifeless within the water this season, and the staff has precious belongings to maneuver. GM Doug Armstrong has not often been a vendor, however he’s achieved it beforehand when the Blues had been teetering getting ready to a Stanley Cup playoff spot.

Think again to 2017, when the Blues GM despatched pending-UFA defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to the Washington Capitals forward of the deadline. That transfer finally landed the Blues Zach Sanford and, in a roundabout means, Brayden Schenn.

Or 2018, when the Blues GM despatched middle Paul Stastny to the Winnipeg Jets. St. Louis obtained a conditional first-round decide within the 2018 NHL Draft, a conditional fourth-round decide within the 2020 NHL Draft, and a prospect. And the Blues had been nonetheless in playoff competition! It was a shrewd transfer that took guts.

St. Louis missed the Stanley Cup playoffs by one level that season. But to me, each of the examples I simply listed show that Armstrong has a powerful concept of what precisely his staff is product of. And the Blues simply haven’t been ok this yr. Defense is a significant concern. And scoring has been a chore when the staff isn’t on the push.

O’Reilly? Trade him. Tarasenko? Move him if you’ll find a taker. Ivan Barbashev and Noel Acciari? If there are mid-round draft picks accessible, make it occur. Niko Mikkola? Go proper forward.

The level is that St. Louis is quick reaching a threshold the place new blood is critical. Not simply ace offensive gamers Jordan Kyrou and Robert Thomas. Or a prospect like Jake Neighbours, who’s trying higher with each recall. The Blues want cost-certain, homegrown expertise to maintain filtering into your entire lineup.

As it stands, St. Louis is and not using a second-round decide within the 2023 NHL Draft. That must be recouped. And including one other first-round choice – which O’Reilly is definitely price – can be a boon for the group.

Perennially good groups don’t usually get the possibility to bulk up on the commerce deadline. But St. Louis has such a possibility this yr. And the Blues can be sensible to money in on it.

Always advance. Never retreat. Will the Vegas Golden Knights – regardless of taking part in near .500 hockey for the higher a part of two months – keep true to their core slogan and be aggressive on the NHL commerce deadline?

Before Golden Knights captain Mark Stone underwent again surgical procedure – his second time below the knife in lower than a calendar yr – I used to be fairly certain Vegas wouldn’t be a lot of an element on the deadline. Maybe a scoring winger or a shutdown defenseman. Which sarcastically can be very anti-Vegas given the aggressive course charted in the course of the first six seasons of the franchise.

I believed this yr can be when the Golden Knights lastly stopped chasing shiny objects. But now, with Stone shelved indefinitely alongside along with his $9.5 million cap hit, Vegas has room so as to add in the event that they so want. The query is: will they?

I feel so. Because the Golden Knights merely aren’t wired for complacency. The staff sits third within the Pacific Division. And the Stanley Cup playoffs are looming massive for a staff that has been tepid at finest since American Thanksgiving.

Vegas has misplaced eight of the previous 10 video games. Scoring has dried up. The Golden Knights’ finest gamers have gone lacking from the scoresheet, together with final yr’s massive splash, Jack Eichel. He has only one purpose and one help in his previous 10 video games. Even extra regarding? His minus-12 ranking throughout that span.

It’s not a matter of Vegas contending for the Stanley Cup this yr. It’s a matter of creating the playoffs in any respect. And I can’t think about any world the place it might be acceptable in Sin City for the staff to overlook the postseason once more.

Yes, accidents have performed a task. But the Golden Knights had been brief on high quality wingers to start out the season. And the scenario has worsened with Stone out. He was the one Vegas participant to have discovered chemistry with Eichel.

So who’s accessible that the Golden Knights may be taken with? Patrick Kane? Vladimir Tarasenko? Both are right-wingers and pending UFAs. Both are Stanley Cup Champions with sizable cap hits. And each may also help fill the web.

I’m simply throwing these names on the market. But the purpose is that Vegas does have choices. If the staff needs so as to add, it will possibly. But is it actually the appropriate factor to do? And even when the Golden Knights wished to, would the sensation be mutual for his or her targets?

Think of it this manner: in the event you’re Patrick Kane, do you wish to go away the one staff you ever performed for – the Chicago Blackhawks – for a staff just like the Golden Knights that has been shockingly common over the previous few months of the NHL season? He holds a full no-movement clause. Kane controls his personal future. Would he go to a staff that’s been spiralling?

I wouldn’t. Especially if there have been higher choices. What if the Dallas Stars need Kane? To me, that’s a staff that may win the Stanley Cup. How concerning the Rangers? Wouldn’t that be thrilling seeing Artemi Panarin and Kane staff up as soon as once more?

So how is Vegas going to tug off an enormous deal? I actually don’t know. The Golden Knights desperately want excessive draft picks after buying and selling away so many over the previous couple of years. And the staff’s prospect pool could be very shallow. GM Kelly McCrimmon doesn’t have a lot foreign money.

But with the way in which issues are negatively trending, I can’t see the Golden Knights opting to select up a spare – but efficient – half like Blues ahead Barbashev. He can be the sensible, cost-effective addition. But when’s the final time Vegas performed it protected?

Always advance. Never retreat. Vegas isn’t promoting. Vegas is shopping for. And with Stone out, I feel they attempt to swing massive.

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